How to Catch Tarpon

Tackle & Best Bait for Tarpon

Top 10 Tips Tarpon Tackle
Tarpon Season Best Bait
Ask a Captain Tarpon Q&A's Best Lures

Tarpon, the silver king, is one of the most sought-after sport fishes on our coasts. It’s also a fish that requires more technical approaches. Here’s the 101 on when, where, and how to catch tarpon.

 Tarpon Season - When to Catch Tarpon

Inshore Tarpon Fly Fishing.

Tarpon can be found in Florida mainly between March and December of each year. There will certainly be areas where tarpon will be hiding out throughout the winter – deep channels, power plant outfalls, etc. – but for the most part tarpon are highly migratory, moving for their preferred water temperature of around 79°F. In the spring, they first show up in the Florida Keys around March or April, and move north as the summer progresses into the central Florida coasts and then into northern Florida in the late summer / early fall, until finally moving back south again in the fall or winter months, and are usually completely south of Florida waters by January.

Tarpon Fishing in Spring Tarpon Fishing in Summer Tarpon Fishing in Fall Tarpon Fishing in Winter

Where to Catch Tarpon

Kayak fishing for Tarpon.

Tarpon inhabit one of the widest ranges of habitat of all known fish. Called “euryhaline,” tarpon can tolerate pure freshwater bodies – as they commonly travel hundreds of miles up some freshwater rivers – to complete saltwater open-ocean where spawning likely takes place. They tend to orient in the deep channels cuts and passes, near bridges, in the seagrass flats, and on the beaches. The presence of tarpon will ultimately depend on the season, however, because of their migratory nature, they will use these areas for feeding and resting on their journey.

 Tarpon Tackle

Huge fighting Tarpon caught with a medium action fishing rod.

When choosing tackle for tarpon, remember that you don’t want to go too light. These are large, powerful fish, with an amazing acrobatic resume. What this means is that on light tackle, the fish will be so tired after the fight, that chances of survival are very slim. Instead, opt for a seven-foot medium action rod with a lot of backbone, with a heavy reel capable of 50-pound test line.

More on Tarpon Fishing Rods and Reels

Spinning Tackle for Tarpon

  • The easiest of all tackle types, spinning tackle is the best choice for tarpon when the water is fairly open, or when you have a crew able to help you turn the fish into open water after hooking a fish on the bridges.

Baitcasting Tackle for Tarpon

  • Baitcasting tackle is a great option for catching tarpon near bridges and other structures where you will need more leverage to pull them away from. Using traditional spinning tackle in these situations may result in the fish pulling too much drag and wrapping up in the pilings.

More on Tarpon Line and Leaders

 Best Tarpon Bait

Tarpon.

The most effective method for catching tarpon is using live bait, especially on the days they’re just not biting. As with any fish, to find the natural bait that works for a fish, you look at their natural diet. Tarpon eat a variety of estuarine and marine fish when on the coasts, including mullet, menhaden, sardines, anchovies, and pinfish, as well as blue crabs – all of which are great live baits excluding the anchovies.

Fish that are fairly large, shiny, and active on the end of a hook will usually be appetizing to a Tarpon. Many fish out there may fit this role, including Blue Runners and Mojarras.

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 Best Tarpon Lures

Tarpon beach fishing.

Artificial lures can sometimes be the most effective method for catching tarpon. The best lures for large adult tarpon include the fish-mimicking soft baits, often looking like mullet, shad, menhaden, or sardines – all natural prey of tarpon.

Of course, flies are also very effective for catching tarpon, and this method is required for any fly fisherman to test his or her true skills. The best flies are slow-sinking “toads,” and are irresistible to tarpon in shallow water.

More on Tarpon Lures

 Tarpon Fishing Tips

Our popular Ask a Captain, with locally renowned Captain David Rieumont, is a one-stop resource for all your Florida fishing needs. Included are some question and answer features from local Florida fishermen on catching tarpon.

Here are some techniques, information and tips for catching more tarpon:

  1. What is the best way to present a live bait to big rolling tarpon?
  2. What is a good quality tarpon fishing setup?
  3. In Hudson, FL we saw tarpon foraging. What lure should we throw?
  4. Are saltwater catfish and/or tarpon edible?
  5. When tossing a live bait to beach tarpon how far ahead should my bait land in order to avoid spooking them?
  6. Are there tarpon outside Allen's Creek?